Neil deGrasse Tyson, New York astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium, came to Montana for the first time to speak at MSU on March 4. Tickets to the lecture sold out within hours of becoming available. Nearly 3,800 individuals came to the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse to hear Tyson speak, the largest audience Tyson has spoken to. The event was hosted by the MSU Leadership Institute.
Tyson began by noting that Montana has some of “the friendliest people I’ve ever met in my life.” After keeping the mood light for a few minutes by reaffirming that Pluto is not a planet he began discussing his experiences while working on “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” on Fox in 2014. He mentioned that “Cosmos” had aired in 181 countries and in 47 languages.
Tyson then delved into the significance of culture and how thought has altered culture and prosperity throughout history. He discussed the “Culture of Prosperity” in which “everyone is a participant in making new ideas.” Using various nations around the world as examples, he said that those who value arts and sciences in their everyday culture are leading the world in scientific discovery, and that scientific discovery corresponds with world power. “Science is the foundation of transformative technology,” he said.
Calling the 20st century in the US a time of technological hope, Tyson pointed to the 1960s as a period in which the US enjoyed a “Culture of Discovery.” A decade in which, despite being one of the most tumultuous periods in American history, the US managed to put a man on the moon. At this point, explained Tyson, humanity was given a cosmic perspective and the notion of thinking we are special came to an end.
Tyson then showed the audience a picture of the earth taken by the Cassini space probe orbiting Saturn in 2013. Named “Pale Blue Dot” in honor of the picture made famous by Carl Sagan in 1990, the image displays Earth as a tiny speck of light near the rings of Saturn. The picture demonstrated Tyson’s point that Earth is tiny in comparison to the known universe. He concluded the lecture with a quote from Sagan’s book “Pale Blue Dot,” after which he received a standing ovation.
Following the lecture, Tyson answered questions from the audience. When asked what was preventing mankind from traveling through space and using the resources there, he said, “It is political will and money that prevents us from doing anything interesting in the world.”
He also related why he decided to become an astrophysicist. At the age of nine he visited the Hayden Planetarium (which he is now director of) and became fascinated with the universe. When he turned 11 he realized he could turn his fascination into a career, and from that point on was determined to be an astrophysicist.
After the question and answer session came to an end, Tyson concluded the event by explaining how important it is to find goals that are meaningful. “When you long for a goal,” he explained, “You will innovate to get there.” Tyson received another standing ovation as he concluded the event with a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”